As we start the last week of our back to school series, we turn our attention to school lunches. It’s tough to get beyond the sandwich, fruit, cookie, and juice box. The options that are available commercially (including the deli meats typically used in sandwiches) are full of fat, sodium, preservatives, corn syrup, and other chemicals. But what are the other options?
A school lunch needs to be fast and easy to assemble, able to withstand lack of refrigeration for several hours, and not likely to get soggy. A thermal bag with a cold pack or a thermos for hot things will expand your options, so they may well be worth the investment.
With a thermos, you can pack soups or simple pastas (a great way to get rid of leftovers). Another fun thing to do is to pack things that need to be dipped or assembled, making lunch an art project. For example, hummus and pita triangles, a simple chicken salad (made with leftover chicken from a previous night’s dinner) that can be scooped onto whole wheat crackers, small veggies that can be dipped (mix a smidge of powdered ranch dressing mix with nonfat plain yogurt as a more healthful option), pieces of fruit that can be dipped in a mixture of yogurt and jam.
Especially if your kids are older – say third grade and up – you can also engage them in preparing lunches. Use an erasable white board or hanging newsprint to list all of the options for lunch, divided by category: protein, veggies, fruits, beverage, treat (for some days), etc. Each kid can choose any combination of one item from each category and toss it in the lunch bag.
If a child wants a nut butter and jelly sandwich every day for a week, why not? If someone wants grapes instead of apple slices or water instead of juice, good!
Engaging children in preparing food is a great way to communicate about nutrition and to encourage autonomy and good decision-making. And you don’t have to make all the lunches!